A Helpful Guide To Pawn Promotion

By Gary Flores •  Last Updated: 2 months ago •  9 min read

One of the most discussed topics in chess is the pawn promotion. Getting your pawns promoted to Queen during a game happens almost all the time.

But chess players, even the grandmasters, make mistakes in doing this promotion move, a very straightforward move of replacing your pawn to another chess piece of the same color.

If you are interested to learn more about pawn check out this guide I wrote for chess pawn rules.

I had experienced promoting pawns of up to two Queens before, which was exciting because it’s a sure win, but of course not all the time. I have seen grandmasters lose with two Queens. I will try to include some games about that as well.

In this article, I have written a complete guide to chess pawn promotion. Enjoy!

Complete guide to pawn promotion

Pawn promotion is a sort of a reward given to a chess player who can reach the opponent’s side of the board using a pawn. That pawn can now become another chess piece (except King) of the same color regardless of whether the chess piece is already captured. This commonly happens in two scenarios.

Promotion of pawns can happen mostly in these two following scenarios:

  1. Pawn promotion can happen during the middle game.
  2. Pawn promotion can happen during the end game.

Promoted pawn is always going to occur in the 8th rank, and there are several mistakes or instances that queening or pawn to Queen is being rejected by arbiters.

Here are the mistakes that chess players make when promoting a pawn:

Let’s take a look at some examples and discuss these pawn promotion mistakes.

Promoting a pawn using an inverted Rook as a Queen

Well, using an inverted rook may happen in an informal chess game, but it doesn’t apply to a chess tournament where there are arbiters and strict rules that you need to follow.

There are specific governing chess rules that should be followed, and sadly not all rules are the same in every chess tournament. There are the FIDE rules, and there are USCF rules.

According to FIDE Laws of chess, 6.12 an under the “Competition Rules” Article 6: The chess clock states that 

If the game needs to be interrupted, the arbiter shall stop the clocks. b. A player may stop the clocks only to seek the arbiter’s assistance, for example, when promotion has taken place and the piece required is not available.

FIDE Laws of chess

There is no rule regarding an inverted rook, but…

According to US Chess Federation’s Official Rules of Chess 7th edition, 8F7 Promoted piece not available under 8F “The Pawn” section states that.

If the desired piece is not available to replace a promoted pawn, the player may stop both clocks to locate that piece and place it on the board. A player who cannot quickly find such a piece may request the assistance of the director. It is common practice, however, to play using an upside-down rook for a second queen. In the absence of the player’s announcement to the contrary, an upside-down rook shall be considered a queen. It is improper to press the clock to start the opponent’s time with the pawn still on the last rank. If this is done, the opponent may immediately restart the player’s clock without moving. 

US Chess Federation’s Official Rules of Chess 7th edition

Interestingly enough, there is a book written by Eric Schiller titled “The Official Rules of Chess” where you can I believe used as a reference for casual chess games wherein you can use inverted rooks as well as a pawn laying on its side when promoting a pawn without having the pieces available physically.

You can check out his book available on Amazon here.

Note: To be safe when playing chess pawn promotion, you need to have the correct chess piece readily available to replace your pawn during a promotion move.

Promoting a pawn on the 7th rank

This isn’t actually what the chess player is attempting to do, but arbiters are very keen on watching how you promote a pawn.

If your pawn is on the 7th rank wherein, you are about to promote the pawn, and then you immediately replace the pawn to a Queen without moving the pawn in the 8th rank is an illegal move.

A very popular video in the chess space shows that exactly and this incident happened in Women’s Chess Blitz.

In this video, she is gesturing the move that she made and is being disputed by the arbiter as an illegal move.

She has the Queen in her hand and placed it on the last rank immediately.

According to US chess federation’s official rules of chess 7th edition, 8F6 Pawn promotion under 8F “The Pawn” section states that

On reaching the last rank, a pawn must immediately be exchanged, as part of the same move, for the player’s choice of a queen, a rook, a bishop, or a knight of the same color as the pawn. This exchange of the pawn for another piece is called promotion, and the effect of the new piece is immediate. For instance, it may give a check or serve to block a check. The promotion piece is placed on the eighth-rank promotion square it touched to which the pawn was or will be moved. 

US Chess Federation’s Official Rules of Chess 7th edition

The pawn has to reach the 8th rank and be replaced immediately.

According to FIDE Laws of chess, 3.7 e under Article 3: The moves of the pieces state that 

When a pawn reaches the rank furthest from its starting position, it must be exchanged as part of the same move on the same square for a new queen, rook, bishop, or knight of the same colour. The player’s choice is not restricted to pieces that have been captured previously. This exchange of a pawn for another piece is called ‘promotion,’ and the effect of the new piece is immediate.

FIDE Laws of chess

It says that a pawn has to reach the 8th rank or the furthest rank from its starting position, only then you can legally promote your pawn.

Promoting a pawn on the 8th rank without changing the pawn

A common mistake by a chess beginner, but you wouldn’t expect this mistake to happen on a very high level of chess competition, right?

Well, it did happen, and it was shocking the way the game ended. You have to immediately replace your pawn to another chess piece before you hit the chess clock.

Here is the video where the move was executed by hitting the clock.

He pressed the clock after moving the pawn without replacing it.

If you read the US chess federation’s official rules of chess 7th edition, 8F7 Promoted piece not available, and it is said that if the pawn is still on the last rank and has not been changed to the proper chess piece, the opponent may immediately restart the player’s clock without moving. 

This also means that the move can be ruled as legal by an arbiter, in FIDE Laws of Chess, B.3 c under B. Blitz states that. 

An illegal move is completed once the opponent’s clock has been started. The opponent is entitled to claim a win before he has made his move. However, if the opponent cannot checkmate the player’s King by any possible series of legal moves, then the claimant is entitled to claim a draw before he has made his move. Once the opponent has made his move, an illegal move cannot be corrected unless mutually agreed without the intervention of an arbiter.

FIDE Laws of chess

This rule may have been applied to the video above, wherein a win was claimed because of an illegal move.

Promoting a pawn that causes a stalemate or a draw

Now let’s check some promotion moves that can cause a game to a stalemate or a draw.

In this example, you will see that a Queening will end in a stalemate.

And here are some actual games played using underpromotion as a chess tactic to win or avoid mate.

In the video above the pawn was promoted to a Knight to check the Black King! The funny thing is that a GM promotes a pawn by placing the new piece on the 8th rank and removing the pawn on the 7th rank. 🙂

Promoting a pawn without saying anything

Saying the chess piece's name when promoting your pawn is a safe way to pawn promotion, but if your opponent sees the chess piece that has already replaced the pawn, I believe it's ok not to say anything.

But it's a different scenario when there are no chess pieces available to replace the pawn. It would be best if you made it clear to your opponent that you are promoting the chess piece to a Queen, Rook, Knight, or stop the chess clock and call the arbiter's attention.

Wrapping Up

Online chess games can have a different set of rules when it comes to promoting your pawn. There are some online platforms that automatically replace your pawn to Queen. 

Wherein you might want to underpromote your pawn for a specific strategy or tactic.

You also need to remember the rule is clear that you cannot replace a pawn to another color or your opponent’s color.

If you want to test your pawn promotion skills online, join this online chess platform and register.

Lastly, I would like you to check out some of the videos below that I think are the worst pawn promotion in an actual game.


Gary Flores

Gary is a chess enthusiast and has three children who also enjoy learning the game. He is a co-author of the "Chess Fundamentals" digital interactive book a ChessDelights Edition. He founded ChessDelights.com in order to brush up on his understanding of this tactic and strategy game. He also enjoys encouraging those who are learning, re-learning, or instructing their children in the game of chess.
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